Five years ago, no one could have predicted the impact that slime mold would have on the air travel industry. This was when the idea for a bionic-design partition for the Airbus first came to the forefront. Engineering designers at Airbus took advantage of 3D printing and generative design software to create the bionic partition for its Concept Cabin. The partition is the only thing that separates passengers from the flight crew.
Airbus’ new lightweight design allows greater access for emergency personnel to bring in stretchers. The ability to neatly tuck the partition out of the way means that medics can get sick or injured people off the plane in a hurry. At a weight of 66 pounds, the partition serves as a fold-down chair for the flight crew during take-offs and landings. As impressive as all of this is, what has truly caught the attention of the flying public is the fact that the entire partition is made of slime mold. This enables it to be 45 percent lighter than the typical airplane partition.
The Power of Generative Design and Additive Manufacturing
The Airbus project combines generative design and additive manufacturing to showcase the bionic design of the partition. This engineering feat may eventually cut production steps in half and increase the materials used in each flight to 95 percent. Airbus also incorporated biomimicry to analyze solutions found in nature and adapt them to current biological models to resolve complex engineering challenges.
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Topology optimization is another concept at play in the design of the Airbus partition. The purpose of this is two-fold. First, it optimizes the placement of materials so they can handle structural loads most efficiently. Secondly, generative design and additive manufacturing forces engineers to explore the nanostructure of all materials when building the plane.
The nano level represents common items used as building blocks. During the building process, the engineer works up to the macro level of the various properties. It is at this stage that all of the components are able to transform into extraordinary ones. A good example is calcium carbonate, a substance that is normally brittle. It toughens in response to where it is in the hierarchal structure. These systems can produce extremely complex nanostructures and geometries.
Software Program Algorithms
Before releasing the bionic partition in use today, Airbus engineers relied on software programs to generate thousands of design concept ideas. Without the software, engineers can only produce about a dozen design possibilities on their own. The program analyzes load-bearing points on the partition and determines which materials to use for its construction. In the case of the Airbus partition, the only materials necessary to create it were scandium, aluminum, and magnesium. Engineers used slime mold to connect the materials determined by the software program.
The recent release of the partition does not spell the end of Airbus’ work. It continues to test the partition by subjecting it to force that mimics the demands it faces in-flight. Eventually, the goal is to create an entire airplane with 3D printing technology. For now, the Airbus partition gets the job done without sacrificing the durability and strength that a flight crew needs it to have.